I've had a rather unusual day in the sense that I went clothes shopping (yes, shopping) with DS, 14, and my Danish exchange son, who is 19. It's unusual that either of my boys would want to go clothes shopping, and fairly unusual that DS would have voluntarily gone to the mall, but since his beloved Danish "brother" is returning to Denmark tomorrow night, I think he just wants any chance he can have to hang out with him.
Danish bro also hates shopping, but he likes girls, and he likes to look his best (which is quite easy for him ;-), and clothes are much cheaper here than in Denmark, so a trip to the mall made sense. I also hate shopping, but I like time with my boys.
So K (Danish son) and I, over the span of 2.5 hours went to Buckle, Hot Topic, Aeropostale, Express, Hollister, American Eagle, and Abercrombie. K is not used to so many choices being in one place (during his entire exchange year here he visited the mall only twice, each time with a specific goal in mind - easy in/easy out) and we decided to "skim" through the stores, see what looked interesting and would fit his shopping list, and return to the stores where he saw things he both wanted and could afford.
We both found it fascinating that the music that was blaring in a particular store would also herald the kind of clothing/level of coolness that store contained. And in the end, most of the purchases came from Express and Hollister.
Express was empty. K was the only male shopping there; a few other college girls sauntered in and out, looking mostly at jeans.
Hollister, directly across the way, was hopping. Duos of friends, both male and female, crowded around various tables, a couple of other mother/son pairs browsed the jeans, tees and hoodies, and several mother/daughter groups hovered near the center room. Hollister sells the California image, bursting with health and sunshine, and enticing Americans and non-Americans alike.
At this point in our excursion, I had listened to punk, techno and now alternative rock, all at piercing decibels, and it's hot enough in Michigan that even the air conditioning wasn't staving away the heat. K was tired, although happy with his purchases, DS was sitting just outside the store, and being as patient as was humanly possible, and I was ready to be anywhere that had daylight and silence.
In the midst of this orgy of sunny California styling, I saw her. She was standing near the leather chairs where two of her friends were sprawled, while her mother paid for purchases nearby. All three girls were 12, maybe 13, at the most. She was wearing a jeans miniskirt that barely covered her crotch and a long, tight tee that would have shown her ribs, if it hadn't been designed to look distressed. Her long legs ended in sky blue flip flops. Her tightly curled ash-blonde hair was pulled back in a bun and her toes angled out in the way that dancers' toes do, when at rest. Her spine was ruler straight.
But like the other telltale signs of a dancer, she had this one: her thighs were thin enough for me to encompass in a fist. Her elbows, jutted out, appearing painful and about to burst through the skin. Her eyes were sunken, hollow, and lit up only when taking her newly purchased clothing from her mother. Her face was unnaturally long, and each vertebra in her neck stuck out in relief.
This was clearly one sick child. And no, I don't think she was just naturally skinny - she was pale, and while she moved gracefully, she didn't seem to have the energy that her two, more fully-fleshed, friends did. Her mother was overweight, although not obese. Clothing, make-up, appearance was clearly important to both mother and daughter, and much conversation between the friends and the mom concerned how wonderful they would all look in their new purchases. Much fuss, especially was made about the fact that the young dancer was skinny enough to wear "anything."
The mother was obviously treating these girls to a very special day. There were exclamations of thanks from all three girls and the mother was given several, obviously loving, hugs for purchases and gifts. The relationship between mother and daughter seemed warm and close.
And I felt so for both the mother and the daughter. And I also wondered whether feeding this child's obsession with her looks by a shopping trip was the best idea. And I also felt that if I were in the mother's shoes, any time I saw my child appearing happy and childlike again would be an excursion worth making or an activity worth doing. I'm sure it's unbearably complicated and who am I to judge?
So I hope that this child is getting the help she needs and that the mother is getting the support and love she needs to get through all this. And that they both make it through. And I abhor this obsession we have in our culture with beauty and thinness and young girls never feeling they can be good enough. And that we don't do enough to help our young girls to stay healthy.
It's just plain sad.